Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, gave his support for the Surface Transportation Reauthorization & Reform Act of 2015 (HR 3763). While expressing concerns over critically low funding levels, including a backlog of $86 billion needed for repairs to public transit, and calling on Congress to actually meet the current and future needs of our infrastructure system, Rep. Nadler applauded the significant progress made on key transportation issues. Such progress includes major advancements to improve our nation’s freight with the creation of the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program, providing guaranteed funding for critical regional and national freight projects.
Below is the full statement delivered by Rep. Nadler on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee markup:
“Mr. Chairman, I want to commend you and Ranking Member DeFazio, Mr. Graves and Ms. Norton, for working together on a bipartisan surface transportation bill. Given the circumstances, and the political climate in which we’re operating, the bill is generally balanced, and makes significant improvements in some areas. But I do have several concerns.
“First, and foremost, the funding levels in the bill are simply not high enough. According to DOT, there is an $808 billion backlog of investment needs on highways and bridges, including $479 billion in critical repair work. Public transit has an $86 billion backlog of critical maintenance and repair needs, which increases by $2.5 billion each year as bus and rail infrastructure ages.
“Yet, this bill provides flat funding of just $325 billion over six years. I appreciate the provision that Mr. DeFazio insisted upon that would allow additional revenue to be distributed without Congress having to pass another bill, but it would be far more preferable for Congress to actually meet the current needs of our infrastructure system. The facts are indisputable, and virtually every transportation stakeholder agrees that increased investment is essential. Yet, the Majority insists that we can only move a bill at baseline levels with small increases for inflation. Everyone wants a long-term bill for reliability and planning, but it might be worth asking ourselves if it is still the preferable option if we are locking in six years of flat funding. I will support moving the process along, but I hope that additional revenue can be secured in the final product.
“The one major improvement in the bill is the creation of the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program, which will provide guaranteed, dedicated funding for large scale multimodal projects that are critical for our regional and national economy. This was a key recommendation of the Freight Panel that I chaired with Mr. Duncan, and it is absolutely essential that we finally address major projects that are too big or complex for states to address on their own.
“The PNRS program that we created in SAFETEA-LU was meant to address such projects, but was divvied up into earmarks. In MAP-21 the PNRS program was reauthorized, but subject to appropriations and never received any funding. The program created in this bill refines and builds upon those efforts, and corrects decades of neglect by finally providing guaranteed funding for nationally important freight projects. Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member DeFazio should be applauded for this achievement.
“I have grave concerns, however, about the aggregate cap of $500 million on non-highway projects. The cap equals about 11% of the program, yet we are bailing out the highway trust fund with potentially 30% in general revenue. It can no longer be argued that highway users are supporting non-highway projects. In fact, the reverse is true. We should let all projects compete and award funding based on need, not game the selection process with arbitrary caps and set asides. I would prefer no cap, but if you’re going to insist upon one, it should certainly be higher than it is, and I support all efforts to improve this aspect of the bill.
“On transit, there are several good provisions in the bill, such as those that address transit worker safety and workforce development. I have concerns, however, about dropping the federal share from 80% to 50% for the New Starts program. It may be the case that it has become standard practice for agencies to “overmatch” and provide at least 50% in local funding for projects, but we should not codify the practice. There is a similar provision dropping the federal share to 50% in the freight grant program. This is a developing trend that is moving in the wrong direction.
“I understand the desire to stretch federal dollars, but we are essentially shifting the burden to states and localities, and punishing them for our failure to adequately invest and meet the needs of the country. It is also unfair to apply the lower federal share unevenly. Highway projects still receive 80% federal funding. This bill starts a reversal of the equity we have always tried to maintain among the modes over the last few decades, and I hope we can address it as the bill proceeds.
“There are a number of other provisions in the bill that are of concern, particularly as it relates to environmental streamlining and motor carrier safety. I am pleased, however, that the bill does not increase truck size or weights, and will work with my colleagues to oppose any amendments to add such poison pills.
“Mr. Chairman, those are just a few of the areas of note. Thank you, and Mr. DeFazio, for getting us to this point in the process. I look forward to working with you to defend and improve the bill on the Floor and in Conference with the Senate.